Author's Note: And the last chapter to this story. It's been a long wait, but it's finally finished.
It was the sound of scattered bird song that roused her from her deep slumber.
Stifling a yawn, Hermione squinted against the bright sunlight that was streaming in from the tall window in her rooms. Pushing the heavy covers off of her body, rolling slowly over to one side of the mattress with a groan, she reached sleepily to the bedside table in search of the clock. The time of day might give her some clue as to the events leading up to her present perplexing position. Was it Monday? Had she even finished grading the third-year's assignments? And why did her head feel like it had been used as a Bludger in a Gryffindor/Slytherin Quidditch game?
She froze mid-search. Now that she thought about it, she couldn't really recall anything at all, her mind preoccupied by the fact that her skull pounding in a moderately painful manner. A horrible thought struck her, beating in counter-point to the dull staccato of her already-throbbing head.
Had she been drinking?
The opportunity to ponder this unpleasant realization in any great detail passed Hermione by when the other occupant of the room chose that precise moment to make their presence known.
'That was a spectacular explosion last night, Professor Granger.'
The smooth, and dreadfully familiar contralto voice jerked Hermione's head around to the other side of the bed.
Minerva McGonagall was sitting next to her in an armchair, long legs tucked gracefully underneath her body and the slightest of smiles gracing her face.
Hermione pulled up the covers to her chin in a symbolic gesture of defence.
'How long have you been here?' she demanded.
Dark eyes regarded her calmly.
'Nine hours. You blew out the wall between the outside office and the inner rooms and knocked yourself out. It made quite a racket.' She paused for a moment and reached over to the side table to retrieve a china cup from a small tray with one hand. 'I patched you up myself – it would have been cruel of me to wake Poppy up at two in the morning on a Saturday.'
A robin chirped cheerily outside.
Hermione stared at steaming cup of tea and then up at the person offering it to her, completely incapable of forming a sarcastic retort. She would have expected anything but this from a woman that she – fully drunk at the time – had screamed at in her own office the evening before.
Most confusing of all, Minerva seemed almost…for lack of a better word…amused.
'Oh yes,' Minerva continued, setting the cup back down on the wooden trousseau and folding her hands in her lap. 'You've stopped drinking it, haven't you. The Americans broke your habit.'
There was a pause as their eyes met.
It finally occurred then to Hermione that – even after attending her classes for seven whole years – even after falling madly in love with her - and even after holding a grudge towards her for more than thirteen years - she had hardly ever even scratched the surface of the woman that was Minerva McGonagall. The depth of her character was almost beyond human comprehension.
This realization made her feel foolish, immature, and very, very stubborn all at the same time.
The lengthy pause stretched onwards into stillness, the only noise being the chattering of birds outside the windows.
'I think my manners might have suffered somewhat during my stay too.'
Hermione's voice was soft.
Minerva tilted her head to one side, regarding Hermione as if she were a puzzle to be solved.
'I suppose that the bright young woman I fell in love with all those years ago is still in there? Somewhere?'
Finally unable to meet Minerva's eyes, Hermione bowed her head, full of shame. Tears began to trickle down her face and fall onto the covers below.
'I missed you,' Minerva said gently.
It was the same thing that she had said at the Christmas party. Mere moments later, a shadow crossed across the coverlet and a gentle touch tilted her chin back up.
Soft dark eyes gazed into the bed-bound woman's, filled with compassion and understanding. Unable to bear it, unable to accept that Minerva was actually there and saying these things that she had waited so long to hear, Hermione turned away, hiding her eyes, biting her lip to keep from making a sound. Here she was - a fully grown, thirty-one year-old woman - crying in front of her childhood teacher.
'We've both being displaying that famous Gryffindor pride to the nines, haven't we?'
Minerva's voice was warm and self-deprecating. A dry sob rose in Hermione's throat and she gasped, trying to hold it in, trying to hide how much she hurt.
'I loved you so much,' she finally whispered to the wall, her voice shaking with the effort of controlled speech. 'I never stopped thinking about you. I couldn't. So many years wasted because I refused to see your side or accept the reasons behind your choice.'
A light touch, fingers stroking her hair, sinking into the strands and slowly combing through the loose curls that were still in disarray from the bedcovers.
'Are you free for dinner tonight, Hermione? I do believe we have some catching up to do.'
Hermione clenched and un-clenched her hands, trying to warm them from their frozen state. A nagging voice in her head told her that she should have worn something more sensible for walking around in late winter temperatures inside a gigantic stone castle with next to no insulation. But the dress suited her well and robes would have been too…
Abruptly, Hermione's mental processes came to a grinding halt when she arrived at the top of the spiral staircase and saw who was standing there at the open door.
Minerva raised her eyebrows in expectation.
Hermione mutely stared at her host, slowly running her eyes down Minerva's body to her legs and back up again to her face.
Minerva smirked in a decidedly un-Minerva-like way.
'I do believe that you're at a loss for words, Dr. Granger. I am flattered.'
Blushing like the schoolgirl she had been more than a decade earlier, Hermione walked hesitantly after Minerva into the large oval office and nearly jumped out of her skin as the door automatically closed with a soft click behind her. With a smooth sweep of her wand, Minerva changed the appearance of the solid panelled wood ceiling above them into that of an evening sky. Tall, white candles, their wicks aflame with golden light, already hovered about the room. The dark hills outside the castle were silhouetted against the fading sun, streaks of bright multi-coloured light stratified along the horizon. This simple setting was more beautiful than any ornately decorated room that Hermione could have imagined.
And her host.
Minerva's hair was down and drawn away from her face. The dark tresses flowed down to the middle of her back and rippled as she moved. Her simple, sleeveless black dress had a modest neckline and came to just above her knees, but clever tailoring displayed Minerva's slim body to spectacular effect.
Hermione was so busy staring at the almost unrecognizable figure before her that she missed part of what the object of her gaze was saying.
'…predicted that you would not be drinking this evening, Hermione, given your still-tender condition from yesterday's adventure, so you'll excuse my lack of alcohol to offer you.'
To her credit, Hermione blushed.
'I shouldn't have d…' she began.
'Ah, ah.' Minerva held up a finger, cutting her off. 'We're all allowed to lapse from continual good judgement and behaviour once in a while.' Here she paused for a brief moment before adding, 'Preferably on nights which will allow the victim ample time to recover before classes begin the following week. Teaching a class of second years while hung-over is something that should never be experienced first-hand.'
'Will you ever forgive me for what I did?' Hermione found herself say before she could stop herself.
Minerva's back was still turned and there was a perceptible hesitation before she answered in a low voice.
Once they sat down for dinner, Hermione's chest began to feel like it would burst from the emotions swirling around inside of her. Minerva's demeanor was the utter opposite of what it had been for the past few months; she was articulate, using her scathing wit to ridicule the administration of Hogwarts and tease her former student without mercy. As the meal continued, Hermione's nerves became more and more agitated. Topics that would have been easy for her to discuss during her teenage years – papers recently published, scholars coming up with new theories, spells being refined – only made her nervous and self-conscious in front of the beautiful witch before her.
When they had finished, she stood up with a quick smile and pushed in her chair. She knew her hands were shaking.
'I still have my third year's papers to mark. Thank you for supper – it was lovely.'
Minerva slowly rose out of her chair and stepped away from the table, lacing her hands behind her back.
'Oddly enough, in the time that I spent waiting for you to wake up this morning, I marked them for you.'
Hermione was a little shocked, but had another excuse ready.
'I also have …'
'…Your fifth year's quizzes,' finished Minerva with a frown. 'Poor showing from the Ravenclaws, I must say, I don't think any of them received more than a seven. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and excuse it as a by-product of teenage hormonal imbalance and not a consequence of neglecting their homework.'
There was a pregnant pause after this short exchange. Minerva was looking at Hermione in a inscrutable fashion and Hermione couldn't decide whether the woman was waiting for her to leave or expecting her to stay and continue talking. In the interest of politeness, and as an escape route for her over-worked nerves, Hermione chose the first option.
But before she could move more than a step towards the door, Minerva reached out and slid her fingers slowly down Hermione's cheek, barely brushing the skin. Hermione froze where she was, not daring to let herself believe that the caress was real. The touch trailed down to her neck and was then joined by another, which slipped under her hair and moved through her scalp in a way that made her spine tingle.
'Not leaving so soon, I hope.'
Any lingering doubts in Hermione's mind as to Minerva's intentions had evaporated when she spoke – the timbre of her voice low and rich.
Dipping her head, Hermione brushed her lips past Minerva's inner wrist as an answer.
Parted lips, warm against her own, softly touched her mouth. Never forcing, simply asking. An unspoken, tactile query. Slowly, Hermione ran her hands over Minerva's slender shoulders to her long neck, stumbling over the chain of silver before reaching smooth skin again.
'Am I forgiven?' she managed to breathe out.
Hermione could feel Minerva smile against her lips.
'What do you think, Hermione?' she murmured. 'Do you honestly think I would dress this way to have a private dinner with a person I only regarded as a colleague?'
Minerva pulled away. Confused, Hermione looked up at her, her hazel eyes widening, instantly thinking of rejection. Smiling reassuringly, Minerva took her by the wrist and lead her up a hidden flight of stairs to her private quarters.
Minerva sat down on the edge of the canopied bed, gently pulling Hermione along with her as she lay down on the top of the covers.
Hermione undid the clasp of the silver necklace and set it on the bedside table, feeling it spill out of her hand and onto the wood surface. Her hands were still shaking, from either cold or nervousness she wasn't sure which.
Warm hands took hers and instantly Hermione's anxiety dissolved into anticipation.
They lay together quietly on top of the covers. Hermione lying on her left side, her arm resting around Minerva's abdomen and her head tucked against her shoulder. The steady heartbeat near her ear was comforting. Minerva was gazing up at the high ceiling, her only movements being the flickering of dark eyelashes.
'Did you read the latest paper by Cameron and Wallace,' Minerva said abruptly.
It took a second for Hermione to remember where she'd heard of the two names but as soon as it came to her, she groaned.
'It was horrible. They ignored previous research, had shoddy measurements and must have been roaring drunk when they wrote their abstract. And who in their right mind would think about pairing Mycroft's Theorem with the old version of the Abram's Code? They contradict each other!'
Minerva scowled at the ceiling
'I think you're being generous - I've had first years with behavioural problems that could have ran a better experimental design than they did. And yet, despite all of their obvious ineptitude, the Ministry is still funding them.'
The mention of first years triggered a question in Hermione.
'Do you miss teaching?'
Hermione's voice was soft and curious. Minerva turned her head to look down at Hermione and it was a long moment before she spoke.
'Occasionally. There is a simple, fulfilling joy that comes with gifting knowledge to others, even those not as eager to learn as they should be.' Minerva smiled wryly. 'I don't miss having to discipline the reluctant ones or hand out multiple detentions.'
'I always knew that strict façade was all just an act.'
'I'm sure the students don't miss me as much as you'd think.'
'Oh, you should have heard them rhapsodising about your exploits in class – you've been deified by their generation.'
Minerva cut in with a short laugh, 'They should see me after one of the meetings with the governors – that would cure them of any belief in my divinity.'
Hermione smiled wryly.
'It was eerie – they reminded me so much of myself when I was their age. I'd forgotten how much you'd meant to me. I'd forced myself to.'
Minerva turned her head to regard her.
'I missed you terribly, Hermione,' she said quietly. 'I followed your research, I read your papers and publications, kept track of your career.'
Tears had begun to form in Hermione's eyes as soon as she realized what Minerva was going to talk about. Long fingers brushed away the wetness that had begun to run down her cheek.
'I sent you letters, they were returned unopened.'
Hermione buried her face in Minerva's loose hair, revelling in the fresh, faintly floral scent.
'I was horrid to you,' she whispered.
'You were hurt, Hermione. I should have seen it coming during your seventh year and been more careful, but…' Minerva hesitated for the space of a breath before continuing in a softer voice. '…But I couldn't bear to distance myself, even if it was for your own good. I cared for you far more than was appropriate for one in my position. I saw myself in you, and moreover, I saw you as an individual, different from all the rest. More than a student. Unique.'
Hermione gazed up at her.
'Why is it that every time we have a conversation, one of us ends up in tears?'
Minerva smiled as she kissed Hermione on the forehead.
'An abundance of affection, caring and a deep sensitivity to each other's feelings, otherwise known in common layman terms as love.'
Unable to think of an appropriate response to this succinct, perfect answer, Hermione sank into Minerva's embrace and drifted into contented sleep.
It was late in the evening several weekends later, and Hermione was on her way back from the library, an assortment of books in her arms, when she heard a familiar voice coming from one of the side corridors. Curious, she back-tracked a few steps and peered down the hall she had just passed. She was greeted by a strange scene.
'It is entirely possible that you are in fact wandering the halls at such a late hour because you have been given previously unprecedented permission by your Head of House to go wherever you please at whatever time you wish.'
A striking dark-haired witch in long robes was standing over a pair of much shorter students, hands folded behind loosely behind her back. It was obvious that she was enjoying herself immensely. The same could not be said for the two young boys, who were visibly shivering even from Hermione's vantage point twenty paces away.
'And as this is obviously not the case,' Minerva continued without pause, 'one must therefore conclude that you are up to less-than-desirable activities that may lead to expulsion from this school should you fail to evade detection by patrolling figures of authority such as myself.'
The two second-years stared at her in a mixture of wonderment and thinly-disguised terror.
'Judging by your looks of astonished disbelief, I will assume that the latter is correct. In that case, you have exactly three minutes and thirty seconds – approximately the time needed to sprint to your dormitory entrance – before I decide to throw you both in detention for the next three months. Am I understood?'
The students looked at each other, and looked back at Minerva.
'On your mark…get set…'
Letting her voice hang, not quite finishing her sentence, Minerva looked expectantly down at the wayward students. Finally realizing that the opportunity to escape punishment was dangling in front of their noses, the two boys ran full tilt in the direction of the Ravenclaw Dormitory before she could say 'go'.
Trying not to grin, Hermione stepped out of the shadows.
'One would almost think that you enjoyed that, Professor McGonagall.'
Minerva turned around to face the newcomer, a wicked smile appearing on her face.
'Teaching can become dreadfully dull if the students are left in peace for too long, Professor Granger. Spooking them now and then keeps them on their toes.'
The two women stood for a moment, gazing at each other in shared amusement. It was Minerva who broke the silence first.
'Is that Whitebridge's Formulary of Exotic Potions?' she said, frowning down at one of the books in Hermione's arms.
'It is,' Hermione grimaced. 'Three of my fifth-years have plagiarized much of chapter 45 in their essays on the dangers of combining potions and Human transfiguration. I'm not sure what bothers me more – their dim view of my intelligence or the apparent lack of their own skills of judgement.
'Shall I turn them into white mice and chase them around the school for you?' Minerva offered.
A thoughtful look appeared on Hermione's face. Refraining from rolling her eyes, Minerva changed the subject.
'Will you have time for tea this evening?'
Hermione gave her a sharp look. 'Are your maternal instincts coming out, Minerva?'
'A different form of affection, Hermione,' Minerva leant forwards and kissed her gently on the forehead. 'But just as strong.'
Hermione sighed and leant against the taller woman.
'You're going to make me drop my books, you know,' she murmured.
'I never liked Whitebridge anyway.'
Hermione forced herself to step back after an enjoyable moment of closeness.
'In a few hours, then?'
She was answered with a smile.
'I look forward to it.'
There was a certain quality to Minerva's voice that made Hermione blush. Laughing softly at her expression, Minerva turned around and left Hermione to her obviously explicit thoughts of the coming evening.
One thing was for certain. Neither of them was going to get much schoolwork done that night.
Time for my annual endnote.
After receiving a few e-mails on the subject, I should probably take a moment to elaborate on WHY I write Minerva/Hermione fics.
It isn't for sex.
There. I've said it. I enjoy writing dialog and interaction more than anything else, a common process for me is to start with many small separate stories and link them together by changing things to fit the particular plot. Above all, I enjoy humor. I find sexual interaction tedious to write, particularly because I won't write explicit sexual encounters – I am unable to. They always come off as comically inept and heavy-handed.
Keeping that in mind, to the delight of all, there are many Minerva/Hermione fics out there about sex. Some of them make me cringe – either those in which the two normally sane women manage to undress themselves only two paragraphs from the beginning – or a blatant disregard for characterization (for future reference: Minerva rarely uses colloquialisms in the books). There are also a few gems; stories that make you sit back in your chair and stare at the brilliance of the author's use of language and eloquence (these are the fics that we come back to time and time again to re-read our favourite bits).
Another thing has been running through my mind lately. It was piqued by an internet search for articles on the 'Girl Crush'. Or lack thereof. So, here's my view on the phenomenon.
If you consider the audience of Minerva/Hermione fics, you would likely find the following stereotypical readers.
A: A poor high school student who has just discovered that her Social Studies teacher is far more attractive than any male she's ever encountered. Mesmerized by the woman's perfect legs, she forces herself to only look up from her paper when the teacher turns around to write something on the blackboard. Along with her blood pressure, her grades skyrocket upwards (to the delight of her parents).
B: The young woman who find her new dance teacher strangely appealing. She begins to wear the same clothes, the same perfume and buy the same brand of gum. She studies religiously to memorize all the lines from the afore-mentioned teacher's favourite movies and wonders how the dance teacher would act in every situation she finds herself (ex. 'Would Ms. So-and-so order the spring or the cesear salad as an appetizer?').
C: A teen who is confused about her sexuality, and is slowly looking for something she can connect to via a Google search on 'gay' people. She erases her computer's history after every session so her parents don't find out about her research. Lo and behold, after several days of searching, she runs across Harry Potter fan-fiction: a subject to which she can identify with.
D: The open-minded fanfiction author. They have a complete vocabulary and a good grasp of grammar and don't believe that gay people should be locked up. They will occasionally critique a story and some are less diplomatic about it than others.
E: A wandering net-surfer with some grasp of literacy but an apparent lack of grey matter in the cranial cavity. They believe that non-biblical love is of satanical descent and will leave nasty comments on every non-Harry/Hermione fic they encounter, without any apparent effort at constructive criticism or capitalization.
The reader that interests me most is the first one. Judging from the e-mails I've received from all of you over the years, most of us are that girl. Handling the predicament that we find ourselves in - with subtlety no less - is difficult.
May I offer some advice?
1. Don't send flowers/notes/letters anonymously. As much as the prospect of being a secret admirer is appealing, it will likely only make the object of your undying affection uncomfortable.
2. Channel the above impulses into writing stories. They don't have to be Minerva/Hermione stories, as much as the rest of us would like them to be, just pick two characters that you identify with, decide on an opening, and run with the story. Ignore the nasty reviewers, listen to the advice of the polite ones and watch your writing skills improve month by month.
3. Console yourself with the thought that you are not alone. There are millions of us that have found ourselves in the same situation. Yes, the feelings can be uncomfortable and confusing and will likely result in many sleepless nights to come (and the rare, perfect dream). On the other hand, there is something wonderful about realizing that you have 'fallen in love'. Moreover, your desire to emulate and please the object of your affection can give you direction and expose you to new interests, putting effort into subjects that you would normally only try to pass or working to perfect your pirouette piquée.
4. Wait it out. As confusing as your life is now, crushes fade, new ones appear. You may lose interest, the person in question may drift out of your life, or in rare cases, a friendship will replace these feelings. In retrospect, school-crushes on teachers were an important part of my youth – they taught me things about myself that would ordinarily have missed and opened up possibilities that I wouldn't have glanced at twice beforehand. They opened my eyes.
Yours in writing,